Monthly Archives: June 2012
Today’s prompt–to write a story about one of your characters’ birthdays–may seem simple, but it isn’t.
Why’s that? Because of one extra rule I’m going to throw in:
The birthday celebration you’re writing about must be correct to their culture and must also be different from what’s usually done in our culture–how different is up to you.
Some thoughts to get you started:
- In medieval times, they often didn’t celebrate birthdays. Instead babies were named a number of days–sometimes years–after their birth, and their Naming Day was celebrated.
- Many cultures send their kids on pilgrimages or vision quests when the kids become adults.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even CELEBRATE birthdays–what if you’re character’s mad because if they lived in the next town over, they’d be having a big party, but their parents don’t believe in that stuff?
- Not all cultures give gifts on birthdays, and in some, it’s common practice to only give gifts that will be useful.
I hope that will help get you started. Please post the first sentence–or paragraph if it’s short enough–of your response in the comments.
For my tenth birthday, my mother took me to Free Cove. I’d always wanted to see the capitol with its four towers, representing the four great families of our nation.
You might think that once you’ve set up your blog and started posting your brilliant thoughts and diatribes that people will flock to your writing and become your adoring fans almost instantly.
You’re terribly wrong if you think that. There are millions of blogs, and every minute hundreds more are created. Everyone and their mother has a blog, and nobody has time to look through them in search of brilliance. In order to be heard over the millions of voices clamouring for attention on the world wide web, you need to make yourself visible in different arenas, particularly in the world of social media.
Remember that in the blogging game content is always king. Without clear, interesting and useful information, your blog will wither and die, read by no one but your mother–and maybe not even her, if her Google Reader’s too full. You can use social media to bring your blog in front of thousands, but if they don’t find the content useful, they’ll leave as soon as they’ve arrived.
But what if I’ve already prepared great content, you ask, and I still can’t get anyone to visit my blog?
Well, my friends, that’s what social media’s for.
Social media not only allows free, instant contact between you and your friends no matter where in the world they are, but it allows you to find your fans and potential customers just as quickly. It also allows you to communicate with them more efficiently, finding out what they’re hoping for from your blog and your brand.
There are dozens of social media sites. Some are broad and accept anyone; others are more focused on a specific niche. Each site gives you access to a slightly different crowd and is tailored to a slightly different form of communication. The three most commonly used social media sites for blogs are Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
Facebook is the most popular social media site and the one you’re most likely to already have an account on. I personally spend very little time on Facebook, but no discussion of online marketing would be complete without it.
There are a few things you can do on Facebook to increase your blog’s visibility. Certain applications will allow you to hook your blog’s RSS feed directly up to your Facebook profile, ensuring that your friends will always see your new blog posts. You can–and, I’m told, should–also create a Facebook Fan Page for your blog, which can be used to share new blog posts and other information and to gather fans.
The best Facebook Fan Pages are a mix of personal information, business information, and links to other helpful sites within your niche. It’s important to respond to fans when they comment on your page. Today’s consumers like nothing more than to feel like part of a community–think of your Facebook Fan Page as an extension of your blog community.
Twitter is only slightly less popular and is my personal favourite social media site. Each status or shared link may be only 140 characters long. It limits rambling without limiting communication or the number of ‘followers’ you can acquire. Filling your Twitter feed with professionals in your industry is a great way to stay up to date and to find inspiration for posts–I can’t tell you how many blog posts here were inspired by a comment on Twitter.
The best way to use Twitter is by sharing 60% other people’s stuff and 40% your own links and products. It’s important to use your Twitter feed every day in order to stay relevant. The use of hashtags, such as #amwriting, at the end of your posts will help other people find them. Putting hashtags into your 140-character bio also makes it easier for professionals in your industry to find you.
It’s important to communicate with your Twitter followers too. The biggest thing people are looking for is, once again, community. Each day when you log into Twitter, your first stop should be the @Connect tab. The interactions page will tell you if anyone’s been trying to talk to you–and give you a chance to respond.
LinkedIn is a more selective, more career-focused social media site. When you join LinkedIn the very first thing you should do is fill in your profile–which looks a lot like a resume. Only mention positions you’ve worked that are relevant to your blog, and don’t forget to make your blog link prominent. I made my blog link more prominent by making my current position Owner/Writer at Dianna’s Writing Den.
LinkedIn is where you’ll do a lot of connecting with other professionals. You can connect it to your Twitter so that they update together, but it’s important to sometimes update LinkedIn on its own so people know you’re invested in the community there. There are also hundreds of groups designed to help connect you to like-minded people and LinkedIn features a job board.
It’s a good idea to set up your LinkedIn now, import your contacts from your email, and when you’ve got your blog all set up and ready to go, to send out a mass message to all your connections on LinkedIn telling them your blog’s just begun. Most of the messages I get through LinkedIn are review requests and links to shiny new author websites, to give you an idea of what LinkedIn’s useful for.
A coherent marketing strategy involves all three of these websites. Depending on what you’re going to blog about, you might want to check out more niche-based social media sites like Goodreads for writers. Aim to devote ten-fifteen minutes a day to each social media site, and you’ll be able to watch your followers/fans/connections grow along with your blog traffic.
Right now what you should do is set up an account with each of these social media sites and go exploring. Figure out what people in your niche are saying on these sites–and make sure what you’re going to say is just different enough to stand out from the crowd.
I finished school two days ago and my brain was too dead to think up a theme for today’s listing, but I do have three markets for you which accept fiction AND non-fiction, so I guess that’s a theme of sorts.
And, without further ado:
42 Magazine Any fan of Douglas Adams will enjoy the title of this magazine, and maybe even the rest of it, too. What’s cool about this magazine is that they’ll accept stories written in any genre, of any length–though I’m sure they’re less likely to take stories beyond 10K–and from anyone who can write well. They also take “Extras”, which can be anything from political essays to how to articles to cartoons to video games sent on CDs to their subscribers. They’ll pay $20 for anything you can dream up–and do well.
AE Sci Fi–The Canadian Fiction Review is looking for short stories between 500 and 3000 words in length, and they’ll pay you six cents per word, which is one cent above what the SFWA deems a ‘professional market’. They also accept non-fiction, primarily interviews and profiles of important science fiction authors, preferably Canadian ones. They also have something called capsule reviews, which they pay $7 for. Articles get $20, and an interview will earn you $30–but remember to query first, because they don’t take unsolicited non-fiction.
Black Warrior Review is looking for poems, short stories of under 7000 words, and non-fiction of under 7500 words. They also accept artwork and comics, though it seems they take fewer of those. Being published in Black Warrior Review nets you a one-year subscription to the magazine and an unspecified amount of money.
Remember that while I tell you a bit more about the magazines than their names–what they pay, what their word count limits are, what genres they accept–it’s still important to read through all the guidelines on their page and make sure you understand it. The number one reason why stories are rejected is because the author didn’t follow the guidelines in an obvious way. Each editor wants you to format your story a little differently from the next–don’t hurt your chances of publication by not paying attention.
When was the last time you submitted work? Where did you submit it to?
This weekend an unexpected trip out of town without my laptop saw to it that my post didn’t make it from notebook to WordPress until now, and reminded me why I need to have back up posts scheduled here. But today, although having a back up plan is important, I’d like to talk to you about the design of your blog.
Blog design is incredibly important. You want your design to draw people in and to make them want to come back. Think of your blog like an online writing profile: you want it to look friendly and professional but still true to yourself.
Clashing colours, distracting background images and unusual fonts that don’t read well across all browsers can all keep people from coming back to your website. Many colour combinations hurt the eyes, particularly on the computer screen, and it’s important to find something that won’t strain your readers.
It varies from niche to niche, but what’s usually recommended is a white background with black text and only a few graphics on the page. It’s important not to clutter the page and make stuff hard to find. It’s also important to make sure it’s easy to read.
Today I’d like you to do some research. Look at the most popular blogs in your niche and evaluate their layouts. Answer the following questions about each blog you look at:
- What are the most prominent colours?
- How many graphics are there on the sidebars?
- Is it easy to find everything?
- What font is used?
- How large are the images on the site?
- What about this blog works for you?
- What about this blog doesn’t work for you?
Once you’ve figured out what elements of design make you want to come back to any given blog, create a mind map and display all the elements you might like to have on your blog. Bear in mind that you can list anything you can daydream of, but if it’s a design tactic used rarely in your niche, it might turn people off rather than excite them. Your ultimate goal is to have a blog layout that stands out from the others in your niche, but not in a way that turns readers off or confuses them about the topic.
For example, if you’re writing a blog focused strictly on fantasy writing and mythology, you might not want the solar system for your background–but if your blog is where you plan on sharing your science fiction stories, it’s a great idea. Often the best background picture is no background picture, but if you can find something that’s not too distracting and that works with your topic, use it to your advantage.
Once you’ve created your mind map, cross out all the elements you think wouldn’t fit well with your blog’s intended topic and feel. Don’t start creating it right away. First, spend this week deciding if you’re going to code it yourself, use a pre-made template for your blogging software, or pay someone else to design it. Give yourself time to consider all the options and do some research into website design services. And while you’re weighing the options, try to keep writing one back up blog post per day so you’ll have even more by the time you get started.
Next week we’re going to discuss creating a detailed marketing plan for your blog. In the mean time, get cracking on those blog posts.
I’d planned a dialogue workshop for this month, but then I realized something: I’ve never really delved into the subject of writing a blog. Blogging allows you to reach out to readers all over the world for free and to build your own little community. It also gives you a place to showcase your professional work to potential clients. Maintaining a scheduled blog also helps you build a writing routine. Not only that, but most of the time, it’s fun.
So why not create your own blog? It’s free, it’s easy to set up and it’s the most reliable–or at least easiest–way of getting your work out to readers. If you’re looking for a summer project that will help your writing career, creating a blog is the thing to do.
Since I’ve never really talked about it before, I’ve decided to walk you through the basics of blogging over the next few weeks.
Today’s goal is to create a conceptual plan for your blog. While my first several blogs were created on a whim, that’s not the best way to do things. Your blog is a career tool: it is a showcase of your work, and it brings readers–in other words, potential customers–to you. Creating it on a whim might be better than not creating it at all, or it may be a recipe for disaster.
Most new blogs shut down within six months. There are a number of reasons. People expect instant results and are disappointed when, like everything else in life, blogging takes hard work and time. Some bloggers realize they’re just not that interested in the topic they started the blog about after all. Others burn out creatively. Sometimes it’s because of outside stresses and other life pressures. Sometimes it’s because they set themselves a schedule that demanded too much of them. Other times it’s because they jumped in without a plan and have written all the ideas they could come up with on the fly.
Don’t let this happen to you. Follow my advice–which I followed for this blog, which might have been the ninth or so, no comment on the ones before–and hopefully you’ll manage to avoid the burnout that kills so many blogs after just six months.
1. Choose your Topic Wisely.
You’re going to want a topic which you’ll enjoy writing about, which you already know quite a bit about, and which you want to learn more about. If you don’t enjoy writing about it, it’ll show and the writing will be dull and uninspiring. If you don’t know anything about it, that means hundreds of hours of research–or looking like a complete idiot. If you don’t want to know more, eventually you will come to the end of your knowledge and be completely out of post ideas.
For me, writing was the obvious choice. I’m passionate about it, I’ve studied it for a long time, and I don’t plan to ever stop. For you, it might be related to your current day job–say, a finances blog if your alter ego is an accountant–or to something you studied in school and always wanted to study after school.
You might also want to make it something you’re going to have goals related to. For example, if you want to do an hour of yoga every day for a year, you might blog about that. If you’re trying to save money and put a down payment on a house, you might blog about that. If you’re trying to write one million words of fiction in a year, you might blog about that. Just make sure it’s something that will still hold your interest once your current goal is met.
2. Test your Topic.
Take the topic you think is most suited and create a mind map. Each bubble branching off from your topic should be an idea for a post or a series of posts. Time yourself and brainstorm for 15-20 minutes. If you come up with seven or more on your first brainstorming session, odds are you’ll be able to blog about the subject. If you didn’t, try the exercise with something else you think you might be able to blog about. Try it again until you find a topic where the post ideas flow easily.
Remember that if the post ideas don’t flow easily now, at the beginning, it’s going to be a lot harder to maintain your blog in the long run.
3. Choose a platform/host.
There are several blogging platforms, most of which are free. Some of them, like Blogger, host–as in provide the space for–your blog and allow for several pages as well as offering blogging software which makes it simple to post things even if you don’t know anything about web code. Others are just software packages which you upload onto a website hosted by another company.
WordPress, the most common and generally considered the easiest to use, comes in both formats. My blog is hosted by the primary wordpress.com site, but Darren’s Problogger, while it uses WordPress software, is hosted by a completely different company.
Self-hosting your WordPress or other blog has benefits such as more flexibility with advertisements, design and how the blog is run. Free hosting from Blogger or WordPress is a great way to start, but limits your design choice quite a bit and doesn’t give you a domain, which is essential for maximum traffic. The other option offered by WordPress–I’m not sure if Blogger offers it–is to register a domain with them. Which means they’re still hosting you–and some of the hosting cost is figured into the domain registration, I’m sure–but you have the domain of your choosing.
Your decision should be based on two factors: what you want from your blogging platform and what you’re willing to invest in your blog. There are comparisons between blogging platforms all over the web. Just ask Google which company can provide what you’re looking for.
4. Design a Schedule&Marketing Plan.
Your average blog updates between two and five times a week. Some post more, some post less. In order to develop a loyal following in most niches it’s important to post at least once a week. Fewer people will follow a blog that updates more frequently than five times a week due to time constraints, unless the updates are fairly short.
When creating a schedule it once again comes down to two factors: what is the minimum or maximum I can post without losing the reader’s interest, and what is the maximum I can write without burning myself out.
Ideally, you’ll choose something in the middle of both factors. I COULD write five posts a week, and most of you might even read them all, but I’d burn out after a while. I still burn out sometimes at three posts a week, but by segmenting my tasks into small chunks of time, I can usually prevent it.
As for your marketing plan, this doesn’t have to be complicated, especially at this stage. The main thing to do is create a list of forums, social media sites and email groups that you’re part of that are appropriate for promoting your blog. Then decide which ones you’d share each blog post with, which ones you’d only share a few of them which and which ones would be better suited to something like a link in your signature.
Voila, you have the beginnings of a schedule and a marketing plan. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
5. Start Writing Blog Posts.
Although you’ve decided which platform you’re going to use, don’t start creating your actual blog yet. Let ideas for the design and colour scheme bounce around in your head for a couple weeks before you make decisions.
Instead of jumping into design, go back to that mind map you made in step two. Start fleshing out each idea. Make it your goal to turn one of those ideas into a blog post every day until you’ve got them all written out.
Next week we’ll discuss designing your blog and creating your about page.
Are you starting any other new projects this summer? Do you already have a blog, and if so, what are you planning on doing there this summer?
Today I’d like to share three themed anthologies with you. Not all of them will pay much for your story, but they’ll all pay something. The best part about these anthologies is that they’ll allow you to see your name in a book–if you’re stuck in novel revision like me, it’s probably the only way you’ll see your name in a book for a while.
Each of these anthologies have a theme. Some are more specific than others. I’ve stayed away from anthologies which are tribute to famous(usually dead) authors and their mythologies, but there are usually a few of those published each year if you’re interested.
Please remember that I do not post full guidelines here and to read through the websites thoroughly before you submit.
Mermaid Tales: An Anthology will be published by Lucky Thirteen. They want stories of up to 20, 000 words about mermaids–other than The Little Mermaid, that is. Being a start up, they can only afford to pay $10 for stories of up to 10, 000 words and $20 for stories of up to 20, 000 words. However, this looks like a fun little anthology to be involved in and contributors will also be allowed to buy copies at production cost for a certain period of time.
The Inanimates I is seeking stories of between 3, 500 and 15, 000 words in which one of the main characters is an inanimate object with the fears and feelings of a human. They don’t want any dolls or dummies though, so be creative. They’ll pay an unspecified flat rate for each story and a contributor copy or two. Again, this sounds like more fun than profit.
The Mothman Chronicles is the highest paying of these anthologies, prepared to pay five cents per word up to 4, 000 words for stories involving the mothman. The stories do not have to be in known mothman territory. They do however have to be sent in by July 1st, so start brainstorming your ideas tonight.
Remember to thoroughly read the guidelines, to edit your story until it sparkles, and to enjoy the process. Themed anthologies are a fun way to get your name out there and to see yourself in print–so take advantage of them this summer and submit to as many as you can write stories for.